THE ALBUM -- "Robin Lane & The Chartbusters," Warner Bros. (Bsk 3424); THE SHOW -- At the Bayou, Sunday at 8 and 11.
If you've got the time, Robin Lane's got the goods, as she says on her debut album,"Robin Lane & The Chartbusters." And she comes through on the offer, delivering original songs in the power-rock vein with a throaty, mean-streets voice.
Lane, mellow folk-rocker turned dynamo, has been active on the Boston rock scene for years with her four sidemen. And they threaten to steal the show with masterful guitar displays. The group includes a couple of former Modern Lovers guitarists, Leroy Radcliffe and Asa Brebner, who were part of the avant-grad movement that evolved into new wave in the late '70s. Together they produce a steady stream of intricate guitar riffs on each track, with airy licks in chilling contrast to Lane's deepthroated singing.
There's a husky, too-many-cigarettes quality to her voice. In laid-back times she sang pretty backups on Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." Nowadays, she's sounding appropriately surly. Yet she pushes herself to the high and low limits of her range and shifts her tone easily from accusing to comforting to propositioning.
Most often, though, she goes in for vague storytelling drawn from bitter experience. Her songs are slice-of-life truths, sketched incompletely and daring the listener to fill in meanings.
On "Don't Cry," her smooth soprano pierces through the shadows but the ideas are typically ambiguous. "I overheard you talkin' in the corner/Something's gotten under your skin." Other cuts give scant details -- about a lover in prison, a no-frills come-on to a hitchhiker, or "the guy who killed the one he loved" -- but the unsettling scenes are left open to interpretation.
Except for a couple of sly songs about love or lust at first sight, Lane's tunes are weighted toward ugly news. The worst, aside from the guy who stabbed his lover, is "It'll Only Hurt a Little While." Raw guitar chords in Kinks' style and terse drums make for a stark backdrop to creepy lyrics:
Who said it would be easy
Who said you could stay high
We're like dead rats in a maze
Floating by on the river of life.
Who said it would be a happy-talk debut LP? Lane is writing from the gut with no sappy fantasies. And if she has a summary point of view it's frustration, a popular rock motif these days. Nothing is simple:
Sometimes I just can't stand
What I'm feelin' inside
And other times I feel so good
I just cry cry cry cry cry.
Her lean verse and melodies, fleshed out by the band's slick guitar runs, put Robin Lane a step ahead of the rest of the frustrated new rock pack.